August 19, 2019

Taharah for a Child

My youngest grandson is four years old.  I have been a member of our Chevrah Kadisha for over 15 years (I am one of the “charter” members).  We live in a relatively small Jewish community and perform a Taharah only about three or four times a year.  When we do a Taharah, it is mostly on men over 60 years old with the occasional younger man in their 40’s or 50’s.  We had never done a Taharah on a child until recently. 

The child was just short of his 3rd birthday, and died very unexpectedly.  Even though the Chevrah Kadisha is synagogue based, about one-third of the families we have served are not members of the only synagogue in town.  Several of the members of the Chevrah Kadisha are not members of the synagogue.  Thus it was with the family of the young child – they were not active in the Jewish community.

The family was not very religious (only the mother was Jewish), but they needed the comfort of Taharah for their child.  The mother had not left the side of the child since he died and mostly just held him.  She wanted to participate in the ritual along with other relatives who were in town to support the family.  There were great concerns from many about the emotional impact this would have on the ritual and procedures that we had established in our Chevrah.

The mother carried the child into the Taharah room, laid the child down, kissed him and took a seat in the room.  Along with the mother’s father and mother, one member of the Chevrah stayed with them and followed the prayers and observed the care we took in the washing and purification of the met

While doing the Taharah, I often glanced over towards the mother to see how she was doing.  I could see the calmness on her face as we went through our ritual and the care we took.   The prayers were comforting to the family; the purification of water gave solace to the mother.  It was very moving for us to watch the family knowing that this ritual was helping them with their grief.

As we wrapped sheets around the child’s small body, we all felt a sense of sadness for the family and for ourselves.  We learned much about ourselves and our duties to the community.

Even though it is not common to have family members in the room during a Taharah, to the family it gave comfort and settled their emotions in this terrible event of losing a child.  For the Chevrah Kadisha members who performed this mitzvah, it was very moving as well. but we all hoped and prayed that we would never have to do Taharah on a child again.

For the Chevrah members present that have children and grandchildren, it was especially emotional and meaningful as we all want our children to grow and live full lives.  For the parents, this child will never grow old and have a full life on this earth.  We learned that every day that we live is precious and we must appreciate every day we have with our families.

For me, I think of my grandchildren and how I want them to have full lives and grow old.  I will appreciate them even more every time I see them.

Kent Schlussel has been a member of Congregation Beth Israel Chevrah Kadisha since it was established in 2000. Kent retired from the federal government as a supervisory physical scientist, and also from the Air Force Reserves. He is presently mostly retired doing some consulting with the Georgia Tech Research Institute. He holds a BS (math) from the Virginia Military Institute, MS from the University of Dayton, and MAM and PhD (Applied Math) from the University of Virginia. Kent has been married for over 44 years to the same love of his life, and has two grown children and four grand-children. He is a student with the Gamliel Institute. 





Starting in October:

Chevrah Kadisha: History, Origins, & Evolution (HOE). Tuesdays, 12 online sessions (Online orientation session Monday October 12th. Classes weekly Tuesdays from October 13th to December 29th, 8-9:30 pm EST/5-6:30 pm PST.

An examination of the modern Chevrah Kadisha from 1626 in Prague, through history and geography, as imported to Europe and the rest of the world, and brought to the US; with a specific contemporary focus on North America, looking at how the Chevrah has developed and changed over time, up to the present. Studies include text study, and emphasize history, sociology, politics, government, and many other factors.

Winter 2016:  

During the coming Winter semester, the Gamliel Insitute will be offering two courses. Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah (T&S), and Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Practices, & Liturgy [Other than Taharah] (RPL). These courses will begin in January, and will each run for 12 sessions. More information to come, or visit the “>Kavod v’Nichum website.


We are considering the options of either offering courses mid-day (East Coast time) or morning (West Coast time) as a convenience to those who have scheduling issues with the evening times now in use (including those overseas in Israel and other places), or providing links to the recorded sessions of the evening classes (to be viewed at the student’s convenience) with a weekly online discussion section at another time of day. . This is anticipated to be the same online format and material as the courses that have been offered in past, but at a time that works better for some than the evening (Eastern Standard).

If you are interested in either of these options, please be in touch by November 1st to let us know: we need to assess the level of interest as we determine whether to incorporate these options. Contact us for more information about scholarships, or any other questions. or call 410-733-3700.

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